Trust and authenticity – prerequisites for social media usage
Posted By Nikhil Raghavan

In his Editorial in Business Economics (November 1-15, 2017), Dr. H. P. Kanoria, Editor-in-Chief says, “The Internet has become the friend of about 53% of Indians, whereas the global average of Internet users is 51%. While the Internet has its positives like connecting people, self-expression, sharing opinions with others, easy access to services, making online purchases, it also has its negatives like online gaming, gambling, pornography, rumour-mongering, addiction to the Net that result in reduced creativity, poor memory, disrupted sleep pattern, restlessness, aggressive social media behavior, etc.”

It is the last-mentioned aspect that we will deal with, in this article. We have, very often, seen media reports of celebrities and politicians tweeting some personal remark or comment, obviously done in the spur of the moment, in response to something they have seen, heard, read or encountered. There have been several instances when such, off-the-cuff remarks on social media have back-fired and the person in question has had to retract the comment or tender an apology.

This is the outcome of using the social media in an irresponsible manner. In an age where distances have been drastically cut short by the world wide web, and social media applications like FaceBook, Twitter, Telegram, Instagram etc. are tools at the tip of one’s fingers, itching to type a cryptic or caustic message on the smartphone, is a tempting thing to do. Therefore, it has become a paramount necessity to exercise self-control and self-discipline whilst using the social media.

Where once there was a draconian law - Section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008 which prohibited the sending of offensive messages though a communication device (i.e. through an online medium), the freedom of expression for the Indian citizen has been given due importance when the Supreme Court struck it down.

“It is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right,” said a Bench of Justices J. Chelameswar and Rohinton F. Nariman. The definition of offences under the provision was “open-ended and undefined”, it said.

But, that doesn’t mean that we have the freedom to use the Internet and the several social media applications that rides on it, in an irresponsible manner. It is typical human nature to misuse a freedom given to us. This is vastly attributed to the restrictive and protective environment that most of us grew up in.

Just as in a classroom where the student must give proper respect and acknowledgement to the teacher, and in a dining room where the food and the manner it is dealt with is by observing proper etiquettes, one’s behaviour on the Internet, otherwise termed as ‘Social Media Behaviour’, has to be an integral part of one’s psyche.

It is easy to get upset, influenced, motivated or insulting over the social media. After all, there is no face to face confrontation, you would say. But, remember, a reputation once damaged is difficult to repair in a short term. Also, repercussions from aggrieved parties, individuals and even corporations have sometimes resulted in destructive consequences to the person who has posted a cryptic or offensive comment.

Exercising restraint and refraining from commenting on issues which do not affect you, will, to a large extent avoid unpleasantness. If you do feel strongly about a particular issue raised by someone on the social media, it is advisable to write your thoughts on a separate document, read through it several times and, when you feel that impulsive quips and comments are eliminated, then is the right time to post it.

Finally, the online medium is new to most of us, but there is little difference in the way you connect with people face to face or over the Internet. The same basic tenets hold true. Trust and authenticity should remain high on your list.

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    Nikhil Raghavan